March 23, 2009 / 4:18 PM / 10 years ago

Chaplain describes faith lost, regained, in Iraq

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - U.S. Army chaplain Roger Benimoff almost lost his faith in God during two tours of duty in Iraq, but then found it again during a painful recovery that ultimately made it stronger.

The cover of "Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain's Memoir" buy U.S. Army chaplain Roger Benimoff. REUTERS/Random House/Handout

“Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir,” is his account of a harrowing journey back from the hell of war. The book was scheduled for publication on Tuesday.

A spiritual healer and counselor, Benimoff found himself being treated as a patient as he battled with the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, which shook his faith in a Christian God and almost cost him his beloved family.

Benimoff, who is now based in Dallas as a civilian hospital chaplain, spoke in an interview about his book, co-authored with Eve Conant of Newsweek, and his personal journey.

Q: How difficult was it to write this book and reveal so much of the personal pain in your family life? Was it part of the healing process for you?

A: It was very, very difficult to write the book. I wrestled with it ... but the book became therapeutic in a sense.

Q: You describe a very emotional scene in Arlington National Cemetery when, while visiting it with your boys, you unexpectedly come across the tombstone of a soldier you knew in Iraq. You asked yourself then if “What we had done in Iraq” was worth this young man’s life. What do you think now? Has the Iraq war been worth all of the sacrifice?

A: When I saw the tomb at Arlington of one of my soldiers — and that was one I had done a lot of counseling with and knew pretty well — it’s one of those questions that ... I’m having trouble putting it into words. It’s hard to describe.

Q: Is it a question you are still wrestling with?

A: Yes. Yes.

Q: Is your faith in God, which you almost lost, now stronger than it was before Iraq?

A: I would say at this point it is, it is stronger. I think my spiritual life is a living process so there are periods where it’s stronger and periods where it is challenged.

Q: Are you fully recovered now from your post-traumatic stress disorder? Or will it always scar you in some way?

A: I think there are certain aspects that have not healed. I still have a disorder. Without medicine I don’t sleep. And even with medicine I still wake up at three or four in the morning: hyper-vigilant, you know, feeling like I want to jump out of my body, anxious. I think ... trying to re-engage my kids and my wife is constantly challenged.

I still can’t handle a bunch of stimuli, you know. Like a really chaotic environment where I can’t track things. It becomes overwhelming emotionally and I have to take breaks. I really don’t go to malls.

Q: What are you doing now?

A: I am continuing the chaplaincy work at one of the hospitals here in Dallas.

Q: You were medically discharged from the military?

A: Yes (So it’s in a civilian capacity now.) It’s going good, it’s a challenge.

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